Sat. Aug 24th, 2019

US Congress members go to bat for islanders

MAJURO,10 JUNE 2019 (MARIANAS VARIETY) —Seven members of the United States Congress are advocating for the rights of Marshall Islanders, Micronesians and Palauans living in the United States under the Compact of Free Association.

The seven members of the U.S. House of Representatives late last month sent a joint letter to Kevin McAleenan, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, seeking his action to facilitate the ability of citizens of the Freely Associated States or FAS to obtain driver’s licenses and other state-issued identification cards.

The US Congress amended the REAL ID Act of 2005 late last year to correct a mistake in the earlier legislation that prevented FAS citizens from gaining standard licenses in most states. But regulations issued by Homeland Security in April to implement the amended law make it more difficult — and in some cases, impossible — for FAS citizens legally residing in the US to gain any type of state-issued driver’s license or ID card.

“Due to regulations set in place by the Department of Homeland Security, Marshallese, Palauan and Micronesian citizens legally residing in the United States experience unnecessary hardship in their attempts to comply with the REAL ID Act of 2005,” said Reps. Tulsi Gabbard and Ed Case of Hawaii, Don Young of Alaska, Rob Bishop of Utah, Michael San Nicholas of Guam, Aumua Amata Radewagen of American Samoa, and Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan of the CNMI in their May 24 letter to McAleenan.

They said the current DHS guideline “is not in line with United States commitments outlined in the Compacts of Free Association.” The three north Pacific nations have long-term treaties with the U.S. known as the Compact of Free Association that give citizens of these nations visa-free access to the U.S. to live, study and work.

Although they do not need visas or work permits, the DHS is requiring FAS citizens to supply either a visa or an Employment Authorization Document or EAD.

“FAS citizens are not required to obtain a visa and…FAS citizens do not need an EAD to seek employment in the US,” said the members of Congress. “They are only required to show their unexpired foreign passport and U.S. documentation proving they entered into the U.S. through the Compacts.

“Therefore, it makes no sense for these citizens seeking a REAL ID card to be required to provide a visa or an EAD when the Compacts approved by law do not require them to have either.”

The members of Congress said because of DHS’ implementation of these regulations, “the unfortunate unintended negative consequence is that Compact migrants are facing economic uncertainty and hardship in applying for an EAD card they were originally told they would not have to obtain in the first place.”

In Hawaii, where the problem first came to light last month, FAS islanders attempting to renew state IDs were told they had to show a visa or an EAD. Because they need neither, and an EAD can take six months or more to process, a growing number of islanders will be unable to renew their licenses, a development that could cost them their jobs. The tour company Roberts Hawaii, for example, relies heavily on Micronesians to drive its buses, while many FAS citizens work at airports in the state. Without state-issued identification that complies with the REAL ID Act, these islanders will be denied entry to the airport.

The recently adopted REAL ID Act amendment was for the specific purpose of fixing a mistake in the earlier version of the law that listed “Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands” — an entity that was replaced by the independent nations with the advent of the Compacts of Free Association — instead of each of the three Freely Associated States.

DHS is requiring FAS citizens to obtain an EAD card, “which they are legally not required to obtain,” said the members of Congress. States can issue temporary ID cards or ID that does not comply with the REAL ID Act, “which undermines the objective of the REAL ID Act of 2005,” they said. The members of Congress expressed concern if FAS migrants are unable to acquire identification that complies with the REAL ID Act of 2005, it could negatively affect employment opportunities.”

They added the bigger picture purpose of the Compacts of Free Association with RMI, Palau and the FSM.

“The Compacts agreed to between the U.S. and the FAS provided FAS citizens the right to reside and work in the United States in recognition and pursuit of the important historic and strategic relationship between our countries,” they said. “It is ultimately unfair and wrong to place added burdens upon this population, who already face many other challenges.”

The seven members of Congress urged DHS to speed up processing of EAD applications for FAS citizens, while honoring the intent of the amendment passed late last year “and work with Congress to find a long-term solution that removes the requirement for FAS migrants to obtain a visa or apply for an EAD.”(PACNEWS)